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Stephen Case Encourages Graduates to Follow Their Passions

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In his address to the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business undergraduate class of 2014, entrepreneur and philanthropist Stephen Case encouraged the graduates to collaborate with people, to follow their passions, and to remember perseverance.

People, he said, are what drives a successful business, more than the actual product it is producing. “At the end of the day, the team you build is the company you build. This is not just in business, this is true in life.”

Case, who is the chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC and former CEO of America Online, said that the Internet became his passion 30 years ago when he was a senior in college. But, with no Internet at the time, he sought opportunities to build the skills that he would need to build an Internet company when the time was right.

By working at places like Proctor & Gamble and Pizza Hut, he said that he “learned important skills, and I also learned that sometimes you have to be flexible and take a circuitous path to achieve your ultimate goal.”

By following his passion, Case also learned the importance of perseverance. Armed with the belief that the Internet could somehow change the world, a 26-year-old Case founded the company that would eventually become America Online. While many people suggested he should choose another career path during his early entrepreneurial years, Case said that he decided to press on.

“Keep at it,” he said. “Some of the best ideas and successful companies exist today because somebody refused to give up. Somebody refused to take no for an answer.”

Case shared his entrepreneurial journey and how entrepreneurship has been a key driver of the U.S. economy since the country’s founding. But, he said, it is about more than business.

“Entrepreneurship matters not just as a source of job creation and economic growth,” he said. “Entrepreneurship matters because it can close the opportunity gap and improve the quality of life for people everywhere.”

During the ceremony, Georgetown University awarded Case an honorary doctor of humane letters. As he looked out upon his fellow graduates, Case expressed his belief in them and the impact they will have on the world.

“You are some of the brightest minds of your generation, and the potential I see in you is what drives my optimism for the future,” he said.

After the conferring of the degrees, Georgetown McDonough Dean David A. Thomas addressed the graduates, asking them to lean in to hear a secret. He told the class of 2014 that they may have believed that they attended college after high school just like millions of others their age. But, they are not like those millions of others. They have participated in formation, rather than certification, over the past four years.

“At the McDonough School of Business, we believe if we are successful, that formation has led you to have the seeds to become principled leaders with a global mindset in service to business and society,” he said. “It is our way to connect to the Jesuit values of men and women for others – through being in service, meeting the world where it is, and connecting and figuring out how we can make a difference.”

Thomas said that he is confident the graduates already understand how to take the business acumen they learned at Georgetown and use it to serve others, no matter where life takes them.

“Some of you will go to Wall Street, some will go to Teach for America, some will go to manufacturing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you go. The process of formation is about continuously asking the question ‘How do I become a man or woman in service? A man or woman for others?’ What will you do with the fact that just by the virtue of sitting in these seats now, you will have more than 99 percent of people on this planet?”

He asked them to remember the Jesuit principle of having more so that we can do more for the world.

Several graduates also shared their reflections on what it means to earn their business degree from Georgetown.

"Graduating from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business validates the American dream that my family was chasing when we immigrated to the United States five years ago,” said Kathure Gatobu Sharon. “As a first generation college student and the first girl in my extended family to complete college, my degree represents hope and the dreams of my grandmother, mother, and every little girl that did not have the chance I was given."

After graduation, Sharon will work for PwC in New York in its Financial Service, Structured Products, and Real Estate group.

Stephanie Messenger, who will stay in D.C. to work for Deloitte as a federal technology risk analyst, looks back with fondness and forward with confidence.

"Graduation is a new beginning,” she said. “Commencement means appreciation, for all of the experiences shared, the knowledge imparted, and the wisdom gained. Commencement means Hoya Saxa, one last time all together."